Pilu woke up crying in the middle of the night, “Honeybee! Shoo! Go away! No! No! Don’t sting! Mommy, help me!” His mother woke up with a start and calmed him down with loving words, “Hush Pilu, no more honey bees, they are gone now. You are safe with me. Hush, baby. Sleep now.”

Pilu slipped back into sleep. But his mother lay awake for a long time. Her thoughts went back to the day when Pilu was barely four months old. It was one of Pilu’s first visits into the forest. Till then, she had kept Pilu hidden in a dark cave where no predator could harm him. She had taken Pilu on one of her favourites haunts — the Honeybee tree. The Honeybee tree was filled with honeycombs, heavy and dark with honey.

Thousands of bees sat on the honeycombs to protect them. The fur of Sloth Bears; for Pilu and his mom were Sloth Bears, was thick enough to keep away honey bees. But Pilu was too young then to know that the Sloth Bear’s nose was its soft spot. And that when honeybees were near, you had to shut your nostrils tight, so no bee could enter and sting you. Unfortunately, a bee stung the soft inside of his nostrils and mom still remembered the hours she had to spend to calm Pilu down. “I must do something about his fear,” was the last thought in her mind before she too drifted off to sleep.

The next day dawned bright and beautiful. Pilu had forgotten all about his honeybee nightmare and was eager to explore the forest with mom. “Mom, where are we going today? I have been with you all over the forest. Can we go to the river today? It’s hot, I want to take a dip!” Pilu’s mom thought it was perfect, she knew about a big honeycomb right near the river that she had her eye on for a long while.

“Okay Pilu, let’s go to the riverside,” said mom and Pilu was slightly taken aback since mom didn’t readily agree to what he wanted. In the excitement of going to the river, he forgot all about his misgivings. “Mom, let me ride on your back,” he requested. “Oh, Pilu! You are such a big sloth bear now, why don’t you walk with me,” she said. “Please, Mom,” said Pilu in his most appealing voice. “All right, get on, but next month you’ll turn nine months old, after that I will not carry you on my back,” said his mother. “Okay Mom,” said Pilu dejectedly, but was soon enjoying the ride. He held on tight to his mom’s thick black fur, while she ambled through the forest.

Pilu enjoyed these walks immensely. But they were not just for fun. His mother was teaching him the ways of the forest through the walks. She taught him how to smell out termites, how to scrape the mound with his sickleshaped claws, then to pu loudly to separate the termites from the soil and quickly suck them up. She taught him the seasons for different plants, fruits and flowers. She taught him which ones were edible and which were poisonous and to be avoided at all cost. But, most important, she showed him the territory of Bagga tiger, how to smell him from far, and quickly turn around if he was anywhere nearby.

Pilu’s mom stopped under a tall tree and sniffed the air. “Mmm, look up, Pilu, what a big honeycomb! Come, let’s climb up.” And she put Pilu down and started climbing the tree. “Doesn’t it look delicious, Pilu?”, she said halfway up the tree and heard a faint “yes”. “Look, we are nearly there,” she said but received no reply. She looked down and saw that Pilu had disappeared. He was not climbing the tree with her. “Oh! Pilu,” she thought, as she climbed down the tree to look for him. But, the minute she climbed down, she froze, her instinct told her something was wrong. “Pilu, where are you,” she called. She sniffed the air for Pilu, her sharp sense of smell made up for her weak eyesight.

“Oh! no, she thought.” She could smell Pilu but could also smell Bagga tiger. Suddenly she saw Pilu cowering under a Karwanda bush. She ran towards him and stopped in her tracks! Bagga tiger was standing between her and Pilu. But he was not aware of Pilu’s mom. He was smelling the air for Pilu.

Pilu’s mom had to act fast, she had to distract Bagga so he would not find Pilu. She growled loudly and Bagga turned around. Bagga was a very large tiger and no one dared to challenge him. He growled back at her. Pilu’s mom stood upright on her two legs to look much larger than she was and growled even louder.

Bagga came running and took a swipe at her. Pilu’s mom quickly ducked to avoid his sharp claws. She also swiped at Bagga and scratched his soft nose. Bagga was taken aback, no one had shown so much courage in front of him. He stepped back, growled softly and took off into the forest. Pilu’s mom calmed down and went running to Pilu.

“Pilu, are you okay,” she asked with concern.

“Mom, I am okay, but are you okay? You were so amazing, mom! So brave!” he said admiringly. “Pilu, all sloth bears are brave, even you are. Now, I am hungry, come let’s eat some honey. No, don’t worry, you don’t have to climb up the tree with me,” said Pilu’s mother.

Pilu’s mother quickly climbed the same tree they had stopped at earlier. As soon as she was near the honeycomb, she took a strong swipe at it with her claws. And the whole honeycomb, bees and all, fell straight on Pilu’s head as he was standing directly underneath it. Pilu was covered from head to toe in honey. Honey flowed down his whole body, while angry bees buzzed around him. He felt like he was having a honey bath! For a second, Pilu was stunned and, the next moment, he was shouting, “Mom! How could you do this!

You know I am scared of bees. I know you did this on purpose. I don’t like you any more, mom! Boohoo!” he cried. Mom had climbed down the tree by then. She stood next to Pilu and said, “Calm down, Pilu. Just keep still for a moment and tell me what you feel.”

Pilu stopped crying and stood still. After a moment, he said, “I don’t feel anything, mom,” and realising what he had just said, he continued with wonder. “Mom, I can’t feel any bee stings! I am brave, like you!”

“Pilu, you were always brave, you just didn’t know it,” said mom lovingly and licked the honey from his face. The happy mother -son duo ate all the honey and went off to the river for a dip.

The whole honeycomb, bees and all, fell straight on Pilu’s head as he was standing directly underneath it. Pilu was covered from head to toe in honey. Honey flowed down his whole body, while angry bees buzzed around him. He felt like he was having a honey bath!

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